‘Sharing is caring’ as Bobby says on the menu. More like sharing means smaller portions, more dishes and and higher prices.
Sometimes you can go for an unplanned meal and stumble upon something special. Sadly, our visit to The House of Ho was not one of those occasions.
When you’re in Soho looking for a week night walk-in with no queueing involved, options are always going to be limited. But on this evidence, it’s probably a smart move to put impatience aside and pick somewhere with a bit of a queue instead.
The House of Ho seemed to tick all the boxes. I recalled seeing chef/figurehead Bobby Chinn cooking a fantastic looking chicken dish on a certain low-brow Saturday morning TV show. I should know better though because like most things you see on TV, it just wasn’t real.
Chinn has a great track record and has had restaurants in Vietnam for more than 18 years. More recently he’s been focusing on the US and this is billed as his first UK venture. Call me a cynic if you will but I rather doubt that he’s got much to do with it. Like many others before him, Chinn has now become more of a brand than a chef. The restaurant is a large, slick operation that reeks of big money investment. Think a grown up, Asian version of Jamie’s Italian.
Our waitress was well versed in the art of up-selling, which we declined (bottled water, prawn crackers etc.). Like most restaurants designed to maximise profit margins, this is a small plates venue. ‘Sharing is caring’ as Bobby says on the menu. More like sharing means smaller portions, more dishes and and higher prices.
We ordered prawn summer rolls and chicken imperial rolls. The summer rolls were good, full of fresh, crisp vegetables and herbs. Imperial rolls were tasty but not particularly crisp (compared to the Vietnamese spring rolls you’d get on a dim sum menu) and the meat strangely had the look and texture of tinned tuna.
Shaking beef was available in large (225g – £18) and small (a measly 120g – £12). It’s a dish I order repeatedly to try to understand what it’s meant to taste like and what all the fuss is about. Sadly, I still don’t know. My dining partner assured me that he had a delicious modern version at The Slanted Door in San Francisco but said that it had zero in common with The House of Ho’s.
Besides good quality charred beef, there were no other discernible flavours to this dish. The best word for it is insipid. The plate was dressed with a strange and hot white powder, which turned out to be ground rice and white pepper. The waitress told us that she’s been asked if it’s cocaine, which I suppose says a lot about some the clientèle. My search for an authentic version of shaking beef goes on.
Lemongrass chicken in caramel sauce was the dish Bobby Chinn cooked on Saturday Kitchen. It looked like something special on the show but most dishes seem to stand out compared to the food that James Martin serves up.
Chinn caramelised palm sugar in a clay pot before adding chicken thighs, fish sauce and lots of chopped lemongrass. The restaurant dish couldn’t have been more different. To start with, you get a pretty measly portion for £9. Worse still, I couldn’t see or taste any lemongrass and the result was a bland dish. Morning glory was similarly uninspiring – tough and overcooked and served on a tiny saucer.
We did some online research at the table and found that our experience was far from unique. After reading how small desserts are, we decided to give them a miss. We could have easily eaten another dish or ten but by this stage we knew it wouldn’t be worth the wait or extra expense.
Overall, the meal was inoffensive but overwhelmingly underwhelming. It just lacked the zing, bold flavours and freshness that we’ve come to expect from good Vietnamese food. Kingsland Road is clearly still the best place for Vietnamese in London.
Given these prices and portion sizes, (and for similar if not slightly better quality) food, you’d be much better off at Busaba. This is another cynical money-spinning small plates joint that looks the part but doesn’t deliver.
Food for two with service: £56
Total bill inc drinks: £72
Address: 57-59 Old Compton St, London, W1D 6HP
Tel: 020 7287 0770